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Will Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter Stop Meaning Anything When Climate Change Hits?

My kids and their friends and everyone roughly their age will, in fact, be the last human beings to remember a stable, predictable procession of seasons.
 
 
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This article first appeared at Orion magazine under the title " The Discontent of Our Winter." You can enjoy future  Orion articles by signing up to the magazine's free trial subscription program.

My children have snow anxiety. For the record, this started in the winter of 2011–12 when no snow fell—at all—and sleds, saucers, skis, and snowball makers sat dejectedly on the porch, unused, next to the irrelevant and despondent snow shovel. Week after week, month after month, Faith and Elijah scanned the skies and studied the forecast. When June-like temperatures hit in March, the sight of the toboggan filled them with so much despair that they wordlessly dragged it back to the barn and put it in storage.

Which did not go unnoticed by their dad and me. When had our kids ever put stuff away without being asked? It was as unprecedented as a snowless winter in upstate New York. Nobody had ever experienced that either.

During the unfrozen winter of 2011–12, the grown-ups all walked around saying, “This is crazy!” True enough. When the temperature in the mudroom hits eighty degrees before the daytime:nighttime ratio hits parity, some synonym for insane is what the thesaurus should take you to. But “This is crazy!” also implies that we possess no rational explanation for June arriving in March. And I noticed that my son and his friends never said things like that to each other. They spoke more grimly, along the lines of, Global warming. It’s here. Now we can’t go sledding. Probably ever. So what do you want to do, dude?

When snow and ice finally fell in April—hard enough and fast enough to cancel school—it fell on tulip and magnolia petals and killed off the entire cherry crop.

The toboggan stayed in the barn.

But wishful thinking springs anew in the hearts of children, even in the face of permanent catastrophe, so, after a cherryless summer and a fall with few apples, Faith and Elijah conferred hopefully about the upcoming winter. Last year was a global warming winter. But maybe global warming winters come only every other year. Maybe this year would be normal.

The snow fell. The sleds came out. The snow melted.

The snow fell again. And turned to rain. The ground thawed and great lakes of water filled the low areas, and the sleds that had been parked at the bottoms of sledding hills across the county bobbed around like flotillas of small boats at harbor.

The sight of floating sleds made the adults say, “It’s crazy!” all over again.

The kids just gave up. Let the record show that in February 2013, the children of Trumansburg, New York, gave up on winter. As a season, it was no longer reliable. You could wake up in the morning to a wonderland—snowflakes dutifully falling, the front yard all white, perfect, hushed, squeaky—and by the time school let out in the afternoon, the miraculous world had already reverted back to brown, gray, mushy, yucky.

“Don’t get excited,” said Faith to Elijah right before Valentine’s Day when he looked out the window at first light and announced a fresh snowfall. “It won’t last.”

My children were born just before and after the turn of the century. They are old enough to reminisce about the days before winter went bad and became the crazy uncle in the seasonal family. Faith’s fashionable friends discuss the clothes they used to wear—month after arctic month—when they were little and the snow was piled high from November to March. Kids today, they note with disinterested interest, just don’t have the same relationship to their snow pants.

 
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